In Memoriam: Robert L. Fleischer

by Howard Dickson, CHP

Robert L. Fleischer, 80, of Schenectady, New York, died 3 March 2011. Bob was well known for developing and applying the techniques used for nuclear-track etching. Born in Columbus, Ohio, he moved to Boston to attend Harvard University, where he received a PhD in applied physics.

Following a time as assistant professor of metallurgy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he moved to Schenectady and spent most of his career (32 years) at General Electric (GE) Research Lab, starting in the 1960s in what he called the "Golden Age" of research. Most recently, he was a research professor of geology at Union College and continued to value this association through the rest of his life.

Bob's early seminal work at GE was on hardening of solids, and later work was on nuclear tracks in solids. This latter field brought with it extensive collaborations in multiple disciplines, including health physics. He and his colleagues designed the cosmic-ray detector taken to the moon and back by the Apollo 16 astronauts, studied the damaging effects of cosmic rays on moon rocks, and dated meteorites and archeological specimens. He published over 350 scientific papers and held 19 patents. His track work led to a company being founded by GE (Terradex: measuring radon in homes and locating shallow deposits of uranium in the ground). Some of Bob's many awards include the American Nuclear Society's Special Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Nuclear Science in 1964, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission's E.O. Lawrence Award in 1971, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement in 1973. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He coauthored Nuclear Tracks in Solids, wrote Tracks to Innovation, and coedited book sets on intermetallic compounds.

He collaborated and jointly published papers with Dr. Otto Raabe early in both of their careers. Dr. Fleischer was a longtime member of the Health Physics Society and the Northeastern New York Chapter.

Partially excerpted from an obituary published in Albany Times Union on 5 March 2011.